Looking back on my emails last March, I was nonchalantly organising photo shoots, teeing up a workshop with an exciting new hospitality client, prepping for pitches, interviewing for new job roles, and even had Brew bowling night out plans in the making.
By mid-March it was becoming evident that none of this was going to happen and our plans, frustratingly, had to change. By the end of March none of this mattered a jot and everything had changed for everyone.
Now, this isn’t a blog to pat ourselves on the back about how well we’ve managed the last year. In my opinion we’ve done okay, but this was a first for everyone and we made mistakes along the way. Most importantly, it’s changed us as a business and as people within it. I think we can be a far better agency as a result of the last year and I thought it might be useful to others to explain how.
Whilst the lockdown was announced on Monday 23 March ‘20, it was a full two weeks before that our world at Brew started to change. The week began with a communication out to clients reassuring them of continuity of service and preparing for an escalation of Coronavirus which was, at that point, at a moderate risk level.
By the middle of that week, we were all working from home and by the end of the week everyone had been told to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel.
As our name suggests, a lot of our work is with hospitality clients. The advice to ‘avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues’ was therefore a bit of a bugger for our friends in hospitality…and, as a result, us.
A week later everything was shut, 90% of our work had gone away, and we were in national lockdown. Other than that, we were in great shape!
I won’t dwell on this part too much as millions were in a similar situation to my colleagues and I. We all had to adapt quickly and try to find solutions to problems we could never envisage we’d ever have to deal with.
For Brew we setup a weekly call and refreshed our objectives to:
- Keep as many people with as much revenue coming in as possible
- Protect the medium to long-term future of Brew
The key was protecting our people, both our employed staff and our flexible contract staff. Keeping them with money coming in was key, but also ensuring we maintained a dialogue to make sure everyone was doing okay in this unexpected new world.
We then had to balance this with securing the future of the business as, without Brew, our first objective became redundant. Fortunately, we could lean on the Government Retention Scheme (furlough) for the majority of staff, PLUS had just enough work to keep our heads above water.
As the months rolled on, work returned, we brought staff off furlough. We were OK. There’s never been a time to say ‘phew, that was a close one’ as challenges still lie ahead, but we used the time to make some significant changes which will hopefully stand us in good stead moving forward. We made three in particular:
1. Financial health
Like many, I spent April trawling through personal bank statements seeing what I didn’t need anymore. We did exactly the same with Brew. What operational costs could we cut down or shed? Like you, we probably got a few surprises about where we were spending money…damn you, mobile phone bills for phones that don’t exist anymore.
We were fairly ruthless on this, so (between you and I) we have had to reintroduce some of those things we curbed. The majority are gone for good and we feel liberated and are now running a much tighter, leaner agency as a result.
2. Business change
Lockdown gave us all the opportunity to focus on what’s really important in our lives and change some of those things that had detracted from that focus. In business it has given us a similar opportunity. For us at Brew we have a broad offering across digital marketing channels and have been guilty of a very broad positioning built over time.
The last year has given us the opportunity to refine this and focus in on the core of our business… our website development offering. Our sales and marketing is now dialled into this and a new web product, brew.web, is launching later this year. We can’t wait.
We also took the plunge and are working from home permanently and, along the way, picked up a few working-from-home tips…
3. Trust in relationships
Outside of work, our trusted relationships have really been tested throughout this time. I’m sure we may not have seen eye-to-eye all the time, but we’ve become more understanding as a result (perhaps).
In business, we have turned to trusted partners, the people we’ve worked with for a long time and knew we could rely upon. Our staff, most of whom are long-standing, have been remarkable, whatever the situation they’ve found themselves in. This trust also felt reciprocated with our clients; those long-standing clients that turned to us in the midst of a crisis. Loyalty, commitment and long-term relationships have been built and strengthened the last year, so there are a few silver linings, it seems.
We’d love to hear from others about what they’ve focused on over the last year in order to succeed in the future and wish everybody the best of luck with the year that lies ahead.